Audience Insights: Organizations Overlook the Most Important Clues

Clues for increased satisfaction and visitation are often right under the noses of cultural organizations. I frequently hear executive leaders Read more

Do Expansions Increase Long-Term Attendance? (DATA)

Sometimes it feels like nearly every cultural organization is taking on a major expansion project. But do these projects Read more

Over 60% of Recent Visitors Attended Cultural Organizations As Children (DATA)

You may have guessed it was true – but here’s why this statistic matters. The idea that those who visit Read more

Cultural Organizations: It Is Time To Get Real About Failures

Hey cultural organizations! Do you know what we don’t do often enough? Talk about our failures. It’s a huge, Read more

How Annual Timeframes Hurt Cultural Organizations

Some cultural executives still aim for short-term attendance spikes at the expense of long-term financial solvency – and they Read more

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite. Read more

exhibits

Special Exhibits vs. Permanent Collections (DATA)

Special exhibits don’t do what many cultural organizations think that they do. If fact, they often do the opposite.

The prospect of hosting special exhibits – and blockbuster exhibits, in particular – often makes exhibit-based cultural organizations excited. They sound cool! They spice things up! They are temporary so it makes visitation urgent! It’s new content upon which to underscore expertise! What’s not to like?

A whole bunch, actually.

Hosting special exhibit after special exhibit – and, especially, so-called blockbuster exhibits – often results in more long-term damage than dinero for cultural organizations. I’ve previously shared information about the phenomenon of “Death by Curation” (also known as “Blockbuster Suicide”). Essentially, data suggest that blockbuster exhibits often create a negative cycle that challenges the solvency of the visitor-serving organizations that come to rely upon them as a primary audience engagement strategy.

This flawed, unsustainable strategy finds organizations over-reliant on visitation from special exhibits – rather than their permanent collections – in order to (hopefully) achieve their attendance and financial goals. It’s no secret that a true blockbuster exhibit can boost a museum’s attendance to record levels. However, a “blockbuster” is rare, and the fact that these blockbusters spike attendance so dramatically is an important finding: Blockbusters are anomalies – not the basis of a sustainable plan. It’s another example of our getting so excited about short-term visitation spikes that we forget to zoom out longer than our annual timelines in order to see what is really going on.

Death by Curation happens a lot, but we don’t often talk about it within the exhibit-based cultural industry. I’m not in the business of calling out individual organizations, but if you think of organizations that have fallen on hard financial times, you may note the frequency with which Death By Curation plays a role in their respective struggles. Death by Curation is the business of staking your reputation and attendance goals on a stimulus that will by definition soon leave your organization. It’s the business of making arguably your organization’s best reputational equities ephemeral. It’s pouring sacred budgeting resources into building affinity for a special exhibit rather than a meaningful destination – your organization.

Essentially, Death by Curation happens because organizations focus on special exhibits at the expense of their permanent collections. We put a lot of endorsement energy and marketing expenditures around special exhibits and that makes sense. Special exhibits often cost quite a bit to actualize, and there is an understandable want to aggressively promote them in the hopes of recouping our investments. That doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Data suggest that an organization’s permanent collections – perhaps more so than special exhibits – matter in terms of overall organizational wellness and sustainability.

The data below contemplate the perceptions of visitors to six visitor-serving organizations that recently (since January 2014) featured a separately ticketed special exhibit in addition to their regular, permanent collections.

Some important numbers before we dive in: The data indicate that 31.7% of visitors only visited the special exhibits – regardless of if their special exhibit admission included access to the permanent collection. This means that though they may have had access to the permanent collection, they report simply visiting the special exhibit and then leaving. Additionally, 34.9% of folks reported visiting both the special exhibit and permanent collection, and 33.4% of visitors reported visiting only the permanent collection.

The special exhibits are different and the organizations are not all of the same “type” (i.e. all history museums). However, they are all exhibit-based. (Performance-based cultural organizations can eat popcorn on the sidelines here. A form of Death By Curation may reasonably apply to performance-based organizations as well, but I do not have apples-to-apples data to make a comparison.) I also want to mention that these six organizations did not take on the same exhibit so as to preemptively address a possible defense against critical thinking: “There’s no way this applies to my organization!”

Let’s take a look at visitor perceptions concerning (a) value for cost; (b) overall satisfaction; and (c) intent to re-visit within one year. Let’s look at value for cost measures first, because this outcome may be the least surprising and it serves a bit like required reading prior to digging into our next two charts.

The value for cost metric measures, essentially, how much bang a person believes that they got for their buck. You will note that value for cost perceptions are reliably lower for those who purchased the separately ticketed special exhibit – and this, too, makes sense: The special exhibit costs more!  However, this metric is not a measure of cost but rather of perceived value – so the goal is for visitors to perceive high value for cost regardless of the expense. In other words, this metric allows that a visitor may perceive a premium experience with a premium cost more favorably than a lower cost, lesser experience. What organizations often forget when they charge an extra fee is that it increases the expectation of an experience worthy of that additional expense.

Another item of note is the generally minor change in value for cost between those who only saw the permanent collection and those who saw both the permanent collection and the special exhibit. This may be surprising, as organizations might guess that someone who saw both permanent and special exhibits might have much higher value for cost perceptions than those who only saw the permanent collection. Depending on the visitor’s perception of the special exhibit, the exhibit risks disproportionately influencing their perceptions and kicking down the value for cost perceptions of those who saw both the special exhibit as well as the permanent collection.

You will note that overall satisfaction is essentially similar among people solely visiting either the special exhibit or permanent collection. Overall satisfaction is 1.18% higher among those who only visited the permanent collection. As previously noted, this is likely due to the role that value for cost plays in the market’s contemplation of overall satisfaction (i.e. lower value for cost perceptions tend to demean overall satisfaction).  In no case are either the value for cost or overall satisfaction metrics less among those who visited the permanent collections when compared to those who only visited the special exhibit.

These data should perhaps give you pause and encourage some consideration. Intent to re-visit for those who only visited the special exhibit are dramatically less than indicated for those who visited the permanent collection.  Again, this may make sense: Those motivated to visit primarily by a special exhibit may naturally be more inclined to wait until the next special exhibit before re-visiting…and the next special exhibit may not open within the next year. This is one of the negative side effects of special exhibits (all the more magnified when we pour a lot of marketing resources into them): We tie intent to re-visit to temporary experiences and thus encourage potential visitors to wait until we have another one to come back. We invest significant resources in underscoring that our special exhibit is indeed the most “special” experience we offer, and then we are surprised when the market believes us and behaves accordingly.

Death By Curation – and an over-reliance on “bigger and better” special exhibits in general – takes its toll on exhibit-based cultural organizations on the whole. It’s the prevalence of the practice of Death By Curation that “nothing new to do or see” is a top reason why people who have reported specific interest in visiting cultural organization’s don’t make it through the door! It is so common that it is a popular reason for not attending cultural organizations. In many ways, we’ve trained the public to believe that our special exhibits are more special than our organizations on the whole – possibly even more important than our missions and the reasons why we exist. We may be sabotaging one of our biggest reputational advantages: That cultural organizations are more than attractions, and that they can and do change communities and the world.

Special exhibits can do good things, of course, when they are carefully considered beyond the quick hit of a temporary attendance spike that comes at the expense of long-term visitation. And perhaps “It’s time to think about our next special exhibit” shouldn’t be a second-nature thought for cultural executives. Perhaps it’s better to think, “What’s the best thing that we can do to walk our talk in terms of who we are and what we stand for?” Sometimes the answer is a special exhibit. However, I’d like to propose that perhaps it’s not the only answer…or, even, a frequently appropriate response.

Chasing audiences with special exhibits – and especially blockbuster/blockbuster-wannabe exhibits – isn’t generally sustainable in the long-term. It also calls to question the total costs of developing and actualizing these exhibits as a means of engaging visitors – including the costs to promote them – when compared to potential alternative uses of the same funds. There are many other proven ways to increase visitation that may be more sustainable than tying visitation to special exhibits.

Consider this: Perhaps what is special is what lives inside of your organization. Building affinity for specific items in a permanent collection may be an underrated move. Items in your permanent collection stand for who you are, and not simply what might be hot right now.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 2 Comments

Data Reveals The Worst Thing About Visiting Cultural Organizations

The primary dissatisfier among visitors to both exhibit AND performance-based cultural organizations is something we can fix.

What is the worst thing about a visit to a cultural organization? That’s the topic of today’s Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts video. The data is in and there’s a clear leader…by a long shot.

Increasing visitation to cultural organizations comes down to mastering the relationship between two things: reputation and satisfaction. While both of these feed into one another and have a somewhat dependent relationship, reputation is primarily established offsite while satisfaction is established onsite within the walls of your organization. Here’s more on the visitor engagement cycle, if you want to take a deeper dive. For cultural organizations, higher satisfaction rates result in a better reputation, more visitation, a greater intent to revisit, and an increased likelihood to support an organization. Making sure that visitors have a satisfying experience onsite is critical. We’ve quantified the weighted aspects that contribute to onsite satisfaction, but a big part of providing a satisfying experience is, well…not providing a dissatisfying experience.

So, what’s the most dissatisfying thing about a visit to a cultural organization? In order to get to the bottom of this question, we consulted the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study. I wanted to look into exhibit-based and performance-based cultural organization types separately. After all, “broken exhibits” (a category that I’ve seen show up in data before, and a thing that several individual clients have been concerned about in the past) is not likely to be a major dissatisfier for, say, an evening at the ballet. The data shown below was collected by a process called a lexical analysis. That is, we didn’t ask folks to “rank” predetermined responses. We asked them open-ended queries about the most dissatisfying aspects of a visit, and then – in a nutshell – used fancy computers to group responses together by weighted value based on frequency of mention and strength of conviction. You can read more about the NAAU study here. The bottom line: respondents populated these answers on their own. These are what they decided were the most dissatisfying aspects of a visit.

 

Let us look at exhibit-based visitor-serving organizations first.

This includes various museums, science centers, botanic gardens, zoos, aquariums, and other types of visitor-serving entities that have ongoing hours of operation and display collections. When folks reported an overall satisfaction value below 60, we asked them which factors contributed to their having a less-than-satisfactory experience. Take a look:

Customer service issues – including rude staff, volunteers, and guards – are by far the most dissatisfying things about a visit. This chart indicates rankings as index values – a way of quantifying proportionality between considerations. With an index value of a whopping 173.6, customer service issues are a huge opportunity. (In consultant speak, the word “opportunity” is a euphemism for “issue” –  if you want to try out some consultant speak at your next staff meeting.) In fact, “customer service issues” is the only response with an index value over 100 at all, indicating that this is an important opportunity to tackle. Trailing a long way behind customer service issues are cleanliness issues, inconvenient hours of operation, closed off exhibits, broken exhibits, and parking issues, to name the big ones. Rude staff (index value 173.6) is over twice as dissatisfying as having whole exhibits closed off or shut down (82.1). Yikes! Rude staff is 4.34x more dissatisfying than admission cost for exhibit-based visitor-serving organizations.

 

What about performance-based visitor-serving organizations?

This includes theaters, symphonies, orchestras, ballets, and other performance-based entities. While there are more items with index values above 100 for performance-based organizations than for exhibit-based organizations, there remains a clear leader:

Interesting, right?! Customer service issues – such as rude staff, and including volunteers and ushers – is still the top dissatisfier! Rude patrons are the runner-up for this subset of organizations. As it turns out, rude people really are the worst on all fronts. The “rude guests” finding may be frustrating for performance-based organizations, as this is a high index value for an aspect of the experience upon which the organization may generally have little control. It raises an interesting question (for which I don’t yet have a data-informed answer): If an organization prioritizes staff friendliness, might it affect the “vibe” of the experience enough to encourage patrons to be friendly and polite as well? In other words, do organization representatives exhibiting less-than-friendly behavior (a notably bigger issue) contribute to an atmosphere that excuses patrons for also being less-than-friendly?

 

Positive, face-to-face interactions between representatives and visitors are critical for cultural organization success.

While rude staff are the most dissatisfying thing about a visit to a cultural organization, positive interactions with staff have the greatest influence on increasing satisfaction. Encouraging meaningful interaction between people is one of the strongest superpowers of visitor-serving organizations. When we consider what folks report to be the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization, it’s not surprising that the worst thing might be the very opposite. When we misunderstand the important role that our staff, volunteers, and folks on the floor play in contributing to this superpower, we risk visitor satisfaction and, perhaps in turn, our long-term solvency.

The data point toward an opportunity for both appropriately training and valuing frontline staff. Guards, for instance, need not be trained to be grim folks whose job it is to reprimand, but rather to engage and aid in missions to inspire and educate audiences. Similarly, volunteers need not be considered “extras” to the visitation experience. They are our very drivers of satisfaction – and our frontline champions of shared experiences.

On that note, now is probably a good time to go hug your favorite, friendly volunteer or member of the floor staff. They deserve it.

 

Like this post? Don’t forget to check out my Fast Fact videos on my YouTube channel. Here are a few related posts from Know Your Own Bone that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of nonprofit marketing information, follow me on Twitter.

 

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, Financial Solvency, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Trends 2 Comments

Data Reveals the Best Thing About Visiting a Cultural Organization (Fast Fact Video)


Hint: It’s not seeing exhibits or performances. (That is a distant second.)

In our attempt to provide educational and inspiring programs, organizations may be overlooking their role as facilitators of shared experiences. Check out this “Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts” video for the run-down.

As it turns out, with > what.

This doesn’t mean that our exhibits, programs, and performances are unimportant! But it does mean that organizations may be better able to engage audiences by realizing that who people are with is often more important that what they see when they visit a cultural organization such as a museum, performing arts organization, science center, historic site, aquarium, zoo, etc.

Check out this data from IMPACTS. This information comes form the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study, which is an ongoing data set with 98,000 responses and counting.

IMPACTS- With over what data

You’ll notice that “time with friends and family” is more than twice as valued as the best thing about a visit to a cultural organization than is “seeing/interacting with exhibits/programs.” In the data world, that is a huge difference. Heck, in any comparative world, that is a huge difference! And, in fact, “interacting with staff/volunteers/performers” is just behind seeing exhibits and performances…further underscoring the importance of interaction and connection with people.

In today’s world, cultural organizations are especially valuable hubs for connection and interaction – not only with onsite content – but with one another.

Our “stuff” is important. Knowing that we are places of connection may be just as – if not more – important. When armed with this information, cultural organizations may be better able to create programs that harness the power of with > what.

Isn’t it interesting that in our age of glowing screens and new technologies, it is the areas of the visitation experience that underscore “real life connection” that are increasingly the most important?

 

Like this video? You can check out more on my YouTube channel. Here are a few Fast Fact post that you might also enjoy:

 

Interested in getting blog posts, tips, and some silly social media geekery periodically delivered in your Facebook newsfeed? Like my Facebook page. Or for more regular sharing of updates and information, follow me on Twitter

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, Fast Facts Video, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Sector Evolution, Trends 4 Comments

According to Visitors, THIS is the Best Part About Going to a Museum (Hint: It’s Not The Exhibits)

When it comes to “the best thing about visiting a zoo, aquarium or museum,” visitors indicate that having a shared experience with friends and family is most important.

I’m pleased to have the opportunity to share a tidbit of data uncovered by IMPACTS Research & Development (the company for which I work, folks)! The data below was first published by the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study (NAAU) and, since April 2011, it has been re-confirmed in six, separate, proprietary studies on behalf of various visitor-serving organizations with which we work. The image below shows unprompted responses to the question and are displayed with the index value for each response. The bottom line? People don’t go to a museum to see the newest exhibit… people go to a museum to see the newest exhibit with people they care about.

Of course, museum marketers are selling an experience, but the trick may be for museum marketers to understand that they are selling a personal experience.

The “with > what” mentality may turn the museum industry’s self-perception on its head. Traditionally, museums (especially certain kinds, such as art and history museums, for example) may be perceived as quiet places preserved in the past and shielded by silence and white walls.  Museums have been seen as intellectual spaces with curators serving as great academic gatekeepers. The ‘museum experience,’ to those of us involved in creating and shaping it, often revolves around the exhibits, the artifacts, the collection…and it is about those things. For visitors, however, the experience is more than an intellectual quest; it revolves around the entirety of the experience and the company attending with the visitor.

This does not mean that the “what” isn’t important. I frequently write about the evolving role of the curator; how in the information age, everyone is a curator and how – particularly for engaging Millennials – highlighting your curator is less important than ever. Although accessibility and self-curation are becoming increasingly important, having and promoting these artifacts and collections can certainly  inspire visitation. They are the things (“whats”)  that people come with their loved ones to see. In other words, the  “with” here may not be as strong without the existence of the  museum’s “what.” (…Did you follow me there?)

Take a look at a visitor serving organization that has shared the love…  To be a museum marketer and miss this critical half of the equation for visitor motivation is a major loss. In fact, institutions that miss this will be limited, especially as the information age continues to reveal increased communication based on public sharing and online brand identity. So who is already onto this information?  To name an example that I’ve referenced before, Monterey Bay Aquarium used the “with” to promote their “what” in their extremely successful Share the Love campaign. The aquarium  got creative and pulled out all the stops with this campaign, and their concept of “sharing the love” – or sharing the experience of visiting the aquarium –  was a hit.  (Notice the  silhouettes, which allow viewers to place themselves into the pictures and videos for the campaign!)

Moreover, there’s empirical evidence that members of Generation Y may be particularly receptive to marketing messages that promote sharing visitor experiences. In particular, Millennials seek existential experiences.  Sometimes this young demographic gets a bad rep for moving conversation online (“Get off of Facebook and go hang out outside”), but this demographic is actually upping the demand when it comes to in-person experiences as well.

In my line of work, this kind of data on visitor motivation  informs significant decisions regarding discounts, exhibit cycles,  reaching new audiences, and long-term planning (to name a few broad areas…). I look forward to delving further into some of the the implications of these findings in the upcoming weeks. Be sure to check back!

Posted on by Colleen Dilenschneider in Community Engagement, IMPACTS Data, Myth Busting, Nonprofit Marketing, Sector Evolution, Trends 7 Comments